FERGUSON, Mo. — For the past week in Ferguson, reporters have been using the McDonald’s a few blocks from the scene of Michael Brown’s shooting as a staging area. Demonstrations have blown up each night nearby. But inside there’s WiFi and outlets, so it’s common for reporters to gather there.
That was the case Wednesday. My phone was just about to die, so as I charged it, I used the time to respond to people on Twitter and do a little bit of a Q&A since I wasn’t out there covering the protests.
As I sat there, many armed officers came in — some who were dressed as normal officers, others who were dressed with more gear.
Initially, both Ryan Reilly of the Huffington Post and I were asked for identification. I was wearing my lanyard, but Ryan asked why he had to show his ID. They didn’t press the point, but one added that if we called 911, no one would answer.
Then they walked away. Moments later, the police reemerged, telling us that we had to leave. I pulled my phone out and began recording video.
An officer with a large weapon came up to me and said, “Stop recording.”
I said, “Officer, do I not have the right to record you?”
He backed off but told me to hurry up. So I gathered my notebook and pens with one hand while recording him with the other hand.
As I exited, I saw Ryan to my left, having a similar argument with two officers. I recorded him, too, and that angered the officer. As I made my way toward the door, the officers gave me conflicting information.
One instructed me to exit to my left. As I turned left, another officer emerged, blocking my path.
“Go another way,” he said.
As I turned, my backpack, which was slung over one shoulder, began to slip. I said, “Officers, let me just gather my bag.” As I did, one of them said, “Okay, let’s take him.”
Multiple officers grabbed me. I tried to turn my back to them to assist them in arresting me. I dropped the things from my hands.
“My hands are behind my back,” I said. “I’m not resisting. I’m not resisting.” At which point one officer said: “You’re resisting. Stop resisting.”
That was when I was most afraid — more afraid than of the tear gas and rubber bullets.
Perhaps Ferguson, Missouri will live in infamy for being the worst example of how the police should work. Talk about heavy handed. The eyes of America are on Ferguson. The town needs to put its best foot forward, not show the world its butt.
Reporters working in a local McDonalds is hardly subversive. It’s done all the time. They are who decides who is trespassing except in situations of extreme emergency. Telling reporters to get out of McDonalds is sort of only one step better than tear gassing people in their own back yard because they won’t leave. That also allegedly happened in Ferguson.
Wesley Lowery of the Washington Post and Ryan Reilly, reporter for the Huffington Post both found out the hard way that justice in Ferguson is not always distributed even-handedly.
Perhaps the most classic example of this police heavy-handedness is:
“I hope you’re happy with yourself,” one officer told me. And I responded: “This story’s going to get out there. It’s going to be on the front page of The Washington Post tomorrow.”
And he said, “Yeah, well, you’re going to be in my jail cell tonight.”
I expect that Ferguson, Missouri is eventually going to be so swamped in litigation it won’t know what end is up. Is this really what happens in Anytown, USA or is Ferguson just the worst of the worst?
The reporters were eventually released. No charges. No arrest report. No officers names given. Shades of Mississippi circa 1963. Shades of Little Rock. Shades of Anytown, USA where most of us would rather not live.